Residents of Graft-Happy FL City Ask, ‘What Happened?’

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The Miami Herald takes a look at the effects of endemic graft and bungling in Opa-locka, a Miami-Dade city of 15,000.  Residents have paid a steep cost for the financial scandal, which landed on front pages last May when city commissioner Terence Pinder commissioner committed suicide by driving into a tree at 80 mhp. With millions in debts, Opa-locka was close to bankrupt. Local city leaders were shaking down business owners in parking lots for cash bribes. And Miami-Dade County had just cut off the city from getting any more public funds. “You get to a point where you say to yourself: What happened to this place?” said one resident, Natasha Ervin. “How did we get there?”

Taxpayers just now learning the costs they will be forced to pay for years of financial failures. In the past six years, Opa-locka has taken on nearly $15 million in debts — an amount that’s expected to take years to settle before the city is on solid financial ground. Local taxpayers — more than a third of whom live in poverty— pay the highest tax rate in Florida and one of the most expensive rates for water in Miami-Dade. Nowhere has the impact taken a greater toll than on Opa-locka’s employees — nearly a dozen of whom have lost their jobs through lay offs while the rest are forced to work fewer hours as the city struggles to pay its bills and avoid insolvency.

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